“Is there a different model of leadership for women?”

It was great to see more than 50 local PR practitioners at the CIPR NW (Lancashire) Leadership Masterclass at the University of Central Lancashire Preston campus last Wednesday (18 September 2013).

As PR in the UK is a profession populated largely by women but led by men, the topic for my session for the evening was “It’s different for girls” – is there a distinct leadership model for women?” It’s a complex topic and could just about be covered in a short session, so I promised to give longer answers to one or two of the excellent questions via a blog post.

Here are the ones specifically to do with transformational leadership, which the research I summarised suggest is the model of leadership women in particular prefer to use:

Q: As the sole PR practitioner, I’m the only female senior manager in my organisation. I don’t think my way of leading is recognised or fits in. What can I do about it?

My brief advice in the talk about this was:

At interview or performance reviews, ask directly about the organisation’s preferred leadership style.

In more detail: few organisations make this explicit, and they should. At the very least, you will know the yardstick you are being asked to measure up to; and if it’s not a yardstick that fits, you can take the opportunity to explain YOUR definition of leadership, showing your different (and possibly superior!) level of knowledge and understanding.

Talk YOUR reality into being, in their language

In more detail: When there are concepts and ideas which are real and important to us but have no physical reality, our words and behaviour are the only tools we have for making them real to other people too. So if your leadership is invisible because your organisation doesn’t “see” emotional intelligence, you will have to make it visible by the way you talk about it. You need to be able to talk about how people are and how you manage this as a leader as firmly and as factually as you do about the strategic plan or the end of month balance sheet. As you persist in this, it will become real for them too, and your people skills will become an appreciated leadership asset rather than somewhere at the periphery of your organisation’s vision.

Finally, as James Grunig has pointed out in his PR ‘Excellence’ studies, the window of opportunity sometimes comes in a time of crisis. This may be when a ‘command and control’-led organisation finds that it needs not only PR counsel, but a model of leadership which has the humanity to feel and respond to the distress of employees who may be handling shock and trauma. In my own experience, if you can show this type of leadership in your organisation’s hour of greatest need, doing the right thing simply because it IS the right thing can lead to winning the credibility you have been seeking – both as a PR professional and as a leader who harnesses her (or his!) emotional intelligence in the role.

A strategic mind, a principled soul and a kind heart. That’s transformational leadership in a nutshell, however many theories underpin the idea. It’s not rocket science!

Surely it’s not too much for us to ask of our leaders – or of ourselves.

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